Wheeli: Is this rideshare service worth it?

The rideshare app posted all around campus that promises “new age hitchhiking”


Collegian File Photo

By Valerie Lehr, Collegian Correspondent

You may recognize Wheeli as the app on posters that have recently been posted all around campus. The fairly new app started out as a startup featured in a Forbes’s article last October and has quickly infiltrated college communities. Wheeli describes itself as a new rideshare app designed for college students in the era of “new age hitchhiking”. On their website they advertise their services as economical, convenient and environmentally friendly. I tried the app out this past weekend and my experience lead me to explore the truth of these claims.

Wheeli, unlike Uber or Lyft, is made solely for college students. In order to register to become a “wheelster”, the term the application’s website coins its users, a university email is required. With this minimal qualification, any college student can easily become a passenger or a driver. This aspect of exclusivity promotes an environment where everyone using the app either to drive or find rides as a college student. Individuals specifically travelling from and around Amherst are predominantly UMass students. The app has an easy-to-use interface and a “rides” tab that leads the user to all available rides. Rides from Amherst to Boston are abundant, but there are also rides from Amherst to New York City, Burlington, Vermont, Hanover, New Hampshire and many other towns. These rides seem to range from 12 to 36 dollars depending on the location, time and day.

I needed to go home last weekend, so I decided to give the app a try. I secured a ride from Amherst to South Station hoping to catch a specific train upon arrival. A few days after signing up for my ride, I reached out to confirm where my drop off and pick-up location would be. Our driver messaged our group a few hours before the departure time saying he’d be an hour late, and because of this, some riders did switch to an earlier ride. But by the time we departed, the ride was already full of passengers.

Aside from our driver getting lost, the ride itself was a great experience. Since I was going to miss my train due to the GPS mix-up, I asked the driver to drop me off at a family member’s home instead. He happily obliged, which worked out fine for me. Riding to Boston with other students was a fun experience, but it definitely necessitated some patience and adaptability on our end. I suspect that this directional misunderstanding happened either because, unlike other rideshare services like Uber or Lyft, the Wheeli doesn’t track where passengers are dropped off, or because the driver simply used a different map application than what Wheeli offered. Because of this, it seems that the Wheeli app serves more as a facilitator for assigning prospective passengers with drivers and creating a cash free experience than it serves as a guide on the drivers’ end. For this reason, communication between the passenger and driver is necessary before departure as well as during the ride.

Luckily for me, aside from some conversation about school and living at UMass, the other passengers kept mostly to themselves. It didn’t hurt that the driver had a great playlist, too. I suspect, however, that if I hadn’t been so lucky in terms of the passengers and driver I had, the trip could have very easily been a not-so-great experience. But, if you’re trying to save some cash, this app is great.

Overall, this up-and-coming application offers not only a solution to the age-old problem of transportation to and from UMass, but it also serves as a way to meet other students in a cash-free, safe and ecologically sustainable experience. Is it great for getting to where one needs to go with a fixed time constraint? Maybe not. But with this “new age hitchhiking app”, Wheeli really is all about the journey and less about the destination.

Valerie Lehr can be reached at [email protected]